by Toffler



Can China handle North Korea? China’s Role in Global Affairs

October 16, 2006, by TofflerN, category Uncategorized

As the situation with North Korea gets murkier, you have to wonder, what is China really doing? China’s usual response is, ‘China hopes for a good resolution to the matter.’ But when their own neighbor is supposedly testing nuclear weapons, can China really stick by such a non-committal answer?

When asking the average inhabitant of Shanghai, ‘what do you think of the situation with North Korea and the UN?,’ you are met with blank stares. When asked, ‘what do you think of China’s moves in the UN?,’ Shanghai inhabitants have no answer. Or ‘what role do you think China should play in peace-keeping in Asia?,’ Or ‘What role should China play in the global community?’ Or ‘How should China manage its increasing importance in world affairs?’ All are met with no response.

Why do inhabitants of Shanghai find it so difficult to even muster a response, let alone a concrete opinion? As far as I see it, there are two main reasons. First, press is–as well all know–tightly regulated. There’s not much information available about the situation. There’s no political commentary from editorial writers. There’s no difference of opinions to generate discussions. Simply put, there’s no opinion to have. For the most part, the citizens of Shanghai are happy to agree with the government’s official opinion: ‘China hopes for a good resolution to the matter.’ It’s a positive, but non-committal response that all Chinese can get behind. The second reason, as explained to me by my roommate, is that those in Shanghai only care about money. Everyone in Shanghai is primarily concerned with the economy: they all want more money, a better life, more time to shop, and further economic development. But to what extent are these actually the people’s wishes? Of course, who’s going to complain about more money or more opportunities to shop? But at some level, the people want this because the government tells them they want it, because the govt pushes for further economic development, because the govt tells the people, you are Shanghainese, you must lead the way to economic prosperity. Therefore, when considering these two reasons together, it seems that despite the fact that Shanghai is a long way from Beijing, the government, through media controls and policies, actually exerts a lot of influence on attitudes and opinions in Shanghai. Is it possible that in a city of 17million people, so few have thoughts of their own?

To continue with the North Korea (DPRK) topic and the US’s attempts to pressure Beijing into complying with the UN Resolution that they recently signed, which would require all nations to inspect cargo ships entering or exiting DPRK…The Shanghai Daily reports:

[Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao] said China is resolutely opposed to the nuclear test by the DPRK and determined to achieve a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula peacefully through dialogue and consultation.

I’m pretty sure we did the ‘dialogue and consultation’ thing for a very long time, and no one (especially not China, nor North Korea, two very stubborn countries) could agree on anything. And yet, we find ourselves, months later, facing an even more imminent DPRK nuclear threat, while the Chinese want to wallow in their meekness, as “Liu said China hopes the resolution will peacefully solve the issue.” A resolution does not peacefully solve any issues. A resolution that includes definite sanctions that are fully enforced, may impact the situation, but a resolution itself will certainly NOT ‘solve the issue.’ By comparison, at least these 2 countries aren’t spineless:

Japan and Australia promised yesterday to enforce the sanctions immediately and said they were considering harsher penalties of their own.

The China Daily, at least gives Liu and China a little bit more credibility through showing his direct language:

“China resolutely opposes the DPRK’s nuclear test, insists on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, objects to nuclear proliferation and insists on the peaceful settlement of the issue through dialogue,” Liu said. […]

“We appeal to concerned parties to keep calm and be cool-headed, take a prudent and responsible attitude to jointly prevent the situation from worsening and break the stalemate, so as to resume the process of the Six-Party Talks as soon as possible,” Liu said.

Prudence is definitely a good thing, as no one wants to piss off–in the words of Luke–a bratty child, with nuclear capabilities. Nonetheless, China, through the voice of Liu, still seems very wishy-washy. And may I ask, what incentive does the DPRK have to rejoin 6-party talks if they are a nuclear power when China can’t even get the guts to screen cargo ships? I think China needs to coordinate its voice on the issue:

Liu said the resolution will solve the problem, while Wang said the sanctions are not the final move. Well it doesn’t really matter since both of them are wrong: sanctions don’t make any difference without enforcement, and even then, the effect is mild at best.

On the other hand, given the impetuous nature of North Korea, taking a mild approach perhaps is necessary, as Pak Gil Yon, North Korea’s ambassador to the UN, said ‘that if the United States increases “pressure upon the Democratic Peoples of the Republic of Korea persistently, the DPRK will continue to take physical countermeasures, considering it as a declaration of war.”‘ In light of this, the US (and other countries) may be best, at least initially, to follow the clause written into the resolution that insists that nations “refrain from any actions that might aggravate tension.”

Despite the need for caution with the irascible North Korea, China needs to get itself fully on-board with the resolution, including sanctions and enforcement, in order to present a unified front that could actually peacefully influence North Korea. Let’s just hope China is a conscious and responsible enough nation to do so, such that Condoleezza Rice’s words may be true:

“You cannot underestimate how big a blow it is to North Korea to have all of the neighbors now, including what has been its strongest supporter, China, fully united behind sanctions against its nuclear program,” Rice said.

Like China, I too, hope for a satisfatory resolution to the issue.


  1. Brian |

    Even with North Korea’s newly found nuclear capabilities, I doubt they are ready to actually take any kind of serious action. I believe that they pushed it through so that people might take them more seriously. I, for one, am very disappointed that there is yet another nuclear power in this world, especially one that is, as your friend put it, “a bratty child.”

    It’s obvious why Japan has taken such a tough stance on this situation – they have the most to lose and are in the most danger. Sure, South Korea and China share borders with the DPRK, but they’re not going to attack them. There is, however remote, the possibility that they could attack Japan.

    Ultimately, I doubt that North Korea is willing to take things to the next level because when it’s all over, they are going to lose. There’s no way they can win any kind of military confrontation, especially with their best friend China not willing to back them up. Ironically, this whole situation has probably damaged that relationship. Additionally, the Chinese have “lost face” having not been able to create any kind of result from their supposedly strong influence over their neighbor.

    Heh, I doubt there was any kind of coherent point to what I just said, but whatever. It’s late and I need to sleep. 🙂


  2. Brian |

    Oh yeah… and I thought a few days ago North Korea said they would consider any kind of sanctions a “declaration of war.” Guess they weren’t too serious about that one… and looks like everyone called the bluff… yeah… that’s it for me…

  3. Harry |

    Now you believe all Chinese are only interested in money , hehe. Yes we are. Actually I dont think China has such massive power to influence N Korea. Those two countries are totally independent. We dont have any military bases in N Korea like US always does 😛

  4. Elva |

    The political system of China decides that it’s meaningless for us to concern about politics. We have no real right to sellect our chairperson, to pass or veto rogations or even to hold a demonstration. Therefore, we would rather care about what fiscal and economic policy has been carried out to attract more investment and promote the city’s development.

So, what do you think ?